Brian Daboll, New York Giants (July 29, 2022)

Brian Daboll – © USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth time in six years, the New York Football Giants are starting a season with a new head coach. As Yogi once supposedly said, “déjà vu all over again.” The hope and prayers by a worn-down fan base is that this time will be different. My overall impression is that most New York Giants fans will accept another losing season as long as they think the team is actually building towards something rather than just treading water in mediocrity (or worse). They want the franchise to have a viable vision, a plan, a strategy for turning things around.

Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, but it seems like the new regime of Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll are ready to make tough decisions. They stood firm on purging the roster of $40 million in cap space, despite the fact they lost guys like CB James Bradberry in the process. While they brought in 35 new players in free agency, they did not break the bank and most of those players were signed to minimum, 1-year deals. Another 11 players were added in the draft, a few of which are projected to have major roles right out of the gate.

Could the Giants be a surprise team in 2022? Anything is possible, but a lot of things would have to break their way, some of which are unlikely. They do have an easy schedule. The defense has depth issues, but the starting group looks pretty good on paper. Most of the concern understandably lies with the offense. But the Giants do have two bright offensive minds now in charge on that side of the ball in Daboll and Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka.

The most difficult thing for fans to accept is that the team is starting over. Again. There was no banked progress from the previous three regimes. They are back to square one. Fans need to recognize and accept that. But fans are also tired of hearing about “learning curves” and “building chemistry” and “creating a winning culture.” Watching your favorite team isn’t supposed to be a chore. It’s supposed to be fun.

They key player who has missed all of camp is Azeez Ojulari. He’s supposedly close to returning, but he has missed a lot of time. Losing Marcus McKethan for the season due to an ACL injury will hurt. He had already moved ahead on the depth chart to second-team right guard and right tackle. Who knows when (or if) Sterling Shepard, Nick Gates, and Matt Peart will return?

Missing practice this week were DL Leonard Williams (unknown), DL Nick Williams (unknown), LB Quincy Roche (unknown), RB Matt Breida (unknown), WR David Sills (unknown), TE Andre Miller (broken arm?), TE Ricky Seals-Jones (unknown), OL Josh Ezeudu (unknown), LB Carter Coughlin (unknown), CB Rodarius Williams (returning from ACL), and S Dane Belton (broken left collarbone). Most of these guys will probably not play. Belton missing all of camp hurts as he was already receiving first-team snaps when he got hurt.

In my opinion, 2022 is not about a playoff chase. It’s about two things: (1) building the foundation of a team that will contend in 2023 and beyond, and (2) relatedly, making a final decision on Daniel Jones. Jones’ final audition begins on August 11th at 7:00PM and may NOT continue until early January 2023, when the team plays its final regular-season game of the season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jones will lose his starting job to Tyrod Taylor at some point. That’s how serious this situation has become for Jones.

Jones is in a tough spot. He’s on his third head coach and third offensive system in four years. The fan base has clearly turned on him and are over-analyzing every single action. The increased use of option routes where the receivers can make the quarterback look bad will be an issue. In any normal situation, Jones would be given time to grow into the new scheme. But time is the one thing Jones no longer has. I would go as far to say that the odds are really stacked against him at this point. His only hope is to tune everything out and just play ball. Don’t play afraid. Go out on your own terms. Playing it safe isn’t going to cut it.

Fans will also be watching a decade-long sore spot: the offensive line. There will be growing pains as the line builds chemistry (there’s that word again), but the Giants look to have cornerstone bookends at tackle. Jon Feliciano at center and Mark Glowinksi at right guard should be solid enough. The only real competition may be at left guard between Shane Lemieux and Joshua Ezeudu (who may not play this week). When analyzing Evan Neal, keep in mind what Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson spoke about this week. Neal is not only transitioning back to right tackle, but they are teaching him a completely new style of pass protection than he learned at Alabama. There will be some rough moments.

I’m not sold on the quality of the receiving targets on this team. Tight end looks mediocre at best unless Daniel Bellinger comes on like gangbusters as a rookie, and the depth behind him is filled with NFL castoffs. At wide receiver, Kenny Golladay looks like a colossal free agent mistake. He’s a big target who can’t seem to separate at all from defensive backs. As soon as it is financially possible, I see the team parting ways with him. The early take is Wan’Dale Robinson is everything the Giants hoped he would be. He should help. But there still is a huge question mark surrounding Kadarius Toney. Can he stay healthy? Is football really important to him? Sterling Shepard is coming off a serious injury and may never be the same player again. Everyone else at WR seems mediocre. That said, keep an eye on Richie James. Wide receiver and tight end are still both major needs on this team.

The best news on the offensive side of the ball coming out of camp is that Saquon Barkley seems to be rounding back into form. Almost as important, this coaching staff seems to know how to use him. I wouldn’t expect to see the coaches reveal too much in the preseason, but expect Barkley to perhaps have a bigger impact as a receiver in 2022 than even as a runner. That all said, I’m not sure Joe Schoen will want to give him the second contract Barkley desires. I would not be shocked to see the Giants deal him by the mid-season trade deadline, especially if he is having a great year. (Remember, the Giants need draft capital if they are going to pursue a new franchise quarterback).

This is the side of the ball I am most excited to watch. This is a very complicated system and there will be those dreaded growing pains. It’s all not a bend-but-don’t-break system, but an all-or-nothing approach. The Giants most likely won’t die from a dozen cuts on long drives, but there may be more 50+ yard touchdown completions against them.

The best player on defense right now is Leonard Williams. He’s been unblockable in camp. Whether he plays or not changes the make-up of the entire defense. On a good team, Williams would be getting a ton of publicity. But the Giants have added possibly another difference-maker in Kayvon Thibodeaux, who is also having an outstanding camp and seems to have impressed everyone within the organization for play, study habits, intelligence, and charisma. On top of these two, one gets the sense that Dexter Lawrence is finally being coached by a coaching staff that knows how to use him. He may be primed for his best year.

As mentioned previously, the key missing component here is Azeez Ojulari. We still don’t really know what Ojulari’s true upside is? How good can he be? Regardless, there are a lot of bodies at outside linebacker who are contending for playing time, including Jihad Ward (a coach favorite and team leader), Quincy Roche, Elerson Smith, and Oshane Ximines. The depth situation appears solid.

Inside, the coaches appear higher on Tae Crowder than fans. Blake Martinez is still making his way back from an ACL injury so he may not play much on Thursday. Having him back is really going to help this defense. Competition inside is fascinating as Darrian Beavers has made noise early and could press for playing time. The Giants also drafted Micah McFadden. Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin are still very much in the picture too, although Carter will probably not play on Thursday.

Aside from Thibodeaux appearing to be the real deal, perhaps the best news coming out of camp is Aaron Robinson’s play at cornerback. Don’t forget, with the loss of James Bradberry, the Giants had a major hole at outside corner. Many felt Robinson was strictly a slot guy and he is proving otherwise. Facilitating this move is the play of Darnay Holmes at nickel cornerback. His position coach said this week that Wink’s defense is particularly well-suited to Darnay’s skill set and he is responding appropriately. Also flying under the radar is the really strong camp that Adoree’ Jackson is having. If he’s primed to become a true #1 cornerback, then the Giants are in good shape if everyone stays healthy. With Belton out, the signing of Andrew Adams at safety is more important than many realize. He will get significant snaps in three-safety sets along with Xavier McKinney and Julian Love. McKinney is another budding star on this defense that may be poised to make some noise.

Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson was surprisingly frank this week about concerns about secondary depth. He’s happy with the way the first-team is playing but wants to see more progress from the second- and third-teams. Henderson said he hopes to be pleasantly surprised by their play in the preseason. The names in question are mostly foreign to Giants fans other than Cor’Dale Flott and Yusuf Corker. We’re talking about Zyon Gilbert, Darren Evans, Khalil Dorsey, Michael Jacquet, Gavin Heslop, Jarrod Wilson, Trenton Thompson, and Nate Meadors. These guys are virtual unknowns at this point.

The one glaring question here is punter. The “Scottish Hammer” Jamie Gillan has the job for now. Can he hold it? The Giants also don’t seem to have any inspiring returners. It bodes well for players like C.J. Board and Richie James if they end up being primary returners in the preseason.

Most of the attention will be on Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor. A quarterback controversy could be brewing, whether the team wants it or not.